Mad Max: Fury Road is to Mad Max as a hipster is to a hippy

Mad Max: Fury RoadAfter watching Mad Max: Fury Road, I have to confess to facing an internal struggle about how to approach any kind of review. There is no doubt that this is an outstanding action film within the context of a contemporary milieu of high-octane, CGI-driven, blockbuster extravaganzas. In fact, it may be one of the best such films to come out in many years – especially in its lack of contrivance towards any semblance of narrative sophistication. The barrage of positive reviews out there reflects this, and there is no point replicating them in great detail.

What they do generally agree on, beyond the fact that the film is a stand-out example in a market saturated by films that look like computer generated strobe-lighting, is that this can only be a good thing for the Australian film industry. Agreed. I’d also agree, to an extent, that the representation of women in the film can be interpreted as (slightly) progressive in the current zeitgeist. They are positioned as the last bastion of hope in a world devastated by male impulses. It’s a good thing.

But there is something under the surface of this film that has been gnawing at me, and I’ve been trying to get to exactly what it is for a while. Jon Eig recently touched on his own concerns in an insightful review in the Huffington Post. I certainly agreed with most of what Jon had to say, but there is something else that I’ve been trying to interrogate – something about Australianness.

Mad Max: Fury Road is to Mad Max as a hipster is to a hippy. Let me try and explain what I mean. The hippies made up a significant portion of the individuals who participated in the countercultural movement of the late 1960s. They were not perfect – their political views were overly simple, and even as the movement began, it was inextricably bound with the capitalistic system it opposed. They represent a great (but overly mythologised) moment, which has subsequently been homogenised into pop-culture (like all moments of counter-cultural rupture ultimately do). Hipsters, the commoditised great-grandchildren of hippies, allege to position themselves in contrast to the mainstream, both through aesthetic and attitude (though less through any real ideology). They are broadly left leaning, well-tailored, impeccably groomed aficionados of the finer things in life – like coffee, culinary experiences and modern art. They own hip restaurants, cafes and art galleries and other successful businesses. They represent an earlier point of rupture now rendered homogenous.

Mad Max was the hippy in this context. It’s grungy, low-down, dirty and cheap approach seemed to represent a punk-like rejection of mainstream culture. This was especially true in the context of an Australian film industry split between producing art films targeted towards repositioning the perception of Australia (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Devil’s Playground), and irreverent counter-cultural cinema that seemed to implicitly suggest that good taste represented the pretension of our British brethren (The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Alvin Purple). It wasn’t perfect – in fact it was a little embarrassing for some – but it was a big proud FU. With each subsequent Mad Max film in the original trilogy, George Miller seemed to take a step towards a larger and more expensive vision. Each was more complex, more professionally shot, and each seemed to render that punk element more digestible and less jagged. If Mad Max is the Sex Pistols, then Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is The Clash (oops, just introduced ANOTHER analogy).

So that makes Mad Max: Fury Road, the hipster. It is deeply informed by the counter-cultural ideals that came before it, but ultimately disassociated from their politics. It is dressed in a neat, clean, beautifully tailored aesthetic that is both reminiscent of its origins, but infinitely cleaner and more perfect than they are. It takes the adrenaline and action that informed its precursors, and executes in a way that is better than anything that has come before, while losing the moment of rupture that informed that adrenaline. Wait! I have one more analogy. Mad Max is Mick Jagger, heading up the Rolling Stones in his outrageous prime. Mad Max: Fury Road is Mick Jagger, standing tastefully in front of the queen, accepting the knighthood that would eternally subsume his outrageousness into tasteful culture.

Mad Max: Fury Road is outstanding. But after watching it, I went home and re-watched Mad Max.

Mad Max: Fury Road

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

20 thoughts on “Mad Max: Fury Road is to Mad Max as a hipster is to a hippy

  1. Prometheus aside, I can’t think of another sequel that came out so many years after the previous entry in a series that was as good as Fury Road. Texasville, The Two Jakes, Godfather 3 .. there are usually good reasons why some proposed sequels never get off the ground. I’m glad to have seen Fury Road, though as you know, what it suggests about modern film troubles me. Great perspective, James.

  2. This is, perhaps, one of the most well-worded reviews I’ve read in a very long time. This is not a short-time, five-minute review produced by mass-media precepts and presented in the typical movie review magazine fashion. Thought went into this. The author was still able to give a proper review of the film while expounding on some of the more in-depth, psychological factors behind hid decisions. Well done, sir. The world needs more reviewers like yourself, and less of the “8/10”, or “5 stars” reviewers that tell you nothing aside from whether or not to watch a film. It was a visual masterpiece of a film, and has quickly become one of the few films that I recommend to everyone seeking my opinion on the matter.

  3. Nice perspective, James. To play in your sandbox, I see the brilliant and raw Mad Max like the low-budget grungy original germ. Without it there are no others. The big difference between most low-budget films and the films that follow is that too much of the former’s purity is gone replaced instead by a dollar sign than a vision. El Mariachi was great, Desperado was a mess. Goes double for original low-budget horror films. Mad Max:Fury Road has enough of a singular vision to not be a total mess. It’s about one thing and is actually a small film seen through a kaleidoscopic lens.

  4. Brilliant stuff, James–what an entertaining, smart perspective you’ve got here! I have to wonder, though, given the hipster contingent’s current predilection for overgrown beards here in the U.S. of A., whether “impeccably groomed” is still an appropriate adjective to describe them. Perhaps that’s something they still have in common with their hippie forebears? 😀

    BTW: At this juncture, I’m slated to see Fury Road tonight. All of the reviews have been positive, so I’m sanguine about the prospects, despite my dislike of the series.

  5. Is there a bad review of this film anywhere? I haven’t seen it, and might not, except to catch it on TV in the future. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I just can’t get too excited about car chases and explosions anymore. The original film was something different. It was from ‘another place’, and there were not too many ‘dystopian visions’ around back then. After that, it followed the usual route of cashing in on sequels and franchises.
    I am hoping it goes like this example.
    Loved ‘Alien’, thought ‘Aliens’ was a good sequel, then it went downhill from there. Along comes ‘Prometheus’ years later, and I adore it.
    If this equation holds good, then ‘Fury Road’ might be the best yet.
    Cheers James, regards from England. Pete.

  6. Ha, that’s a great review James – I’m trying to work out whether it’s making me more or less likely to see the film. I certainly won’t see it in the same light after this or your last review. Sounds to me like there’s a longer article or even a book in there somewhere?

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